As I write this review it is the height of British summertime, and as I'm staring
outside the window at 8:30 PM it's almost black dark out there and pouring it down with rain.
Which is - to extents - to be expected, given the UK's terminally unpredictable climate.
No wonder so many people emigrate to Australia, where the sun seems to always be shining.
And after having spent much time travelling around, and subsequently writing about,
places such as North America (see his epic Lost Continent travelogue), Europe (Neither Here Nor There)
and good old Blighty via his Notes From A Small Island it was
only a matter of time before the bearded and bespectacled comic genius in Bryson
strapped himself into a plane seat and headed further south.
Australia is the world's sixth largest country and its largest island.
It is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country.
It was the first continent conquered from the sea, and the last.
It is the only nation that began as a prison.
As with all Bryson's light-hearted but fiercely informative writing, Down Under is a truly
fantastic read that mixes genuinely hilarious anecdotes with fascinating and highly detailed
sojourns into the history of all of the places that he visits during his stay there.. a
journey that takes him to most of the major cities including Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra,
Adelaide, Melbourne, Darwin and Cairns.
As well as enjoying the virtues of some of the most pleasant and leafy cities on earth,
Bill also heads into the overwhelmingly expansive out-back and soon realises that Ayers Rock
(AKA Uluru to its native residents) - that's almost slap bang in the middle of the continent,
or at least it is on a map - is one long drive from civilisation.
Even Uluru was unseen by anyone but its Aboriginal caretakers until only a little over a century ago.
To Australians anything vaguely rural is the bush. At some indeterminate point the bush becomes the outback.
Push on for another 2,000 miles or so and eventually you come to bush again, and then a city, and then the sea.
And that's Australia. Well, that's Australia according to Bryson's magnificently simplified model!
Some of the most engaging sections of the book are borne out of the in-depth research that he undertakes
into how the native Aborigines have been treated by white men over the years.
Even today he notes that they seem to be invisible to whites, which seems an astonishingly
Other absorbing sections of Down Under include those about how rabbits bred and bred and bred
from just 24 rabbits to over-run the entire country in a remarkably short space of time (and
despite the myxomatosis virus killing the majority of bunnies when the situation became so
bad that the virus HAD TO BE unleashed, today Australia's rabbit numbers are back up to 300
million and climbing fast - which sounds an awful lot, doesn't it?!), while the history
of how Australia was conquered is told with relish, and in doing so Bryson naturally
relates Captain James Cook's epic sailing journeys.
This book was published in 2000 and since then Bill has thrust his Short History of
Nearly Everything into the fray of top-notch writing.
Whatever he may be writing about, Bill always assumes the air of your favourite schoolteacher.
His sense of humour is almost unparalleled in the realm of modern-day travel writing (even
if some spurts of his sarcasm might fleetingly offend some people to subtle degrees), and
that is matched only by his rampant enthusiasm for going new places in pursuit of broadening
his remarkable knowledge and life experience.
Bill Bryson .. the world salutes you, the true Wizard of Oz.
ISBN 0-385-40817-X (first published in 2000 by Doubleday)
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